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Record visitors to Norwich Castle Museum thanks to Cressida Cowell-inspired dragon exhibition

07:00 02 March 2016

Author Cressida Cowell joins children in the A Viking

Author Cressida Cowell joins children in the A Viking's Guide to Deadly Dragons exhibition at Norwich Castle Museum . PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY

History has been made at Norwich’s Castle Museum after a new visitor record was set - thanks to the popularity of an exhibition dedicated to dragons.

While the museum has hosted hugely successful blockbuster exhibitions on Roman Britain and artists Manet and Jeff Koons, they have just been put in the shade by Hiccup the Viking and a dragon called Toothless.

The castle’s highest ever single day recorded attendance of 2,124 came during the A Viking’s Guide to Deadly Dragons exhibition - which draws on the enormously popular How To Train Your Dragon series of books by author Cressida Cowell.

Featuring the author’s original illustrations, the exhibition gives visitors the chance to look at her notebooks and watch filmed interviews. They can also dress up as dragons and Vikings and visit a wild dragon cave.

Visitor numbers for February half term as a whole also shattered records, with 13,055 visitors, compared to 12,029 over the same week last year.

Museum bosses hailed the exhibition and the linked programme of activities over the February half-term for attracting the record footfall.

Stuart Garner, operations manager for Norwich museums, said: “Homage to Manet was the benchmark and on February 20 last year, we had 1,930 while that exhibition was on. But that was broken this year when we had 2,025 on February 16 and then two days later we had 2,124.

“We wanted to get an exhibition in over half-term which was child-friendly and it’s been a great success. We always knew it was going to be busy, but it was a bit of a risk in targeting a specific audience.

“But the beauty of this exhibition is that it ties in so well with literacy in schools. Most of the children are already well aware of the books, so, while we’ve been busy over the half-term and expect to be at Easter too, it’s really good for school groups at other times.”

Cresswell, whose books have been turned into a Hollywood film and TV franchise, paid a visit to the exhibition.

Asked to explain the appeal of dragons, she said: “I think there’s a number of things, one is the idea that dragons might exist, because cultures across the world have believed in dragons, so it’s that tantalising idea that maybe they did.

“Dragons remind us that we don’t know everything, that the world is still a mysterious place and there are still many things to be discovered.”

John Ward, xhairman of the Norfolk Joint Museums Committee, said: “It looked like the stunning Norwich Castle visitor figures from last year were going to be a hard act to follow but the dedicated work of everyone at the castle has seen us break yet another record.”

The exhibition – created by Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children’s Books – continues at the castle until May 30.

• Do you have an arts story? Call arts correspondent Emma Knights on 01603 772428 or email emma.knights@archant.co.uk

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